by Richard Mansel
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NKJV).
There is a reason why this is the first beatitude. Jesus lays the foundation for the remainder of the list by establishing authority and purity.
The word “blessed” has a rich history. The original meaning “appears to be limited to outward prosperity.”/1 As years passed, it moved into the Christian vocabulary. “Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, it becomes the express symbol of happiness identified with pure character.”/2
It moved from physical to spiritual as the meaning changed. Yet, one aspect of it remains. We are rich spiritually if we do what the Sermon on the Mount dictates. The wealth contained in this sermon will create a lavish spiritual life, connected with God. The display of this wealth changed from the exterior to the inner person.
“The vague outlines of an abstract good vanish from it, and give place to the pure heart’s vision of God, and its personal communion with the Father in heaven.”/3
We are rich in our communion with the Lord, if we are striving to employ the tenets of the Sermon on the Mount into our lives. We strive for a higher calling, embracing sanctification.
This sermon clearly delineates the worldly and the spiritual. Therefore, it is fitting that the word “blessed” has this history, as well. It reflects the transformation necessary for the rebirth (Romans 12:1-2; John 3:3-5). “The Christian word blessed is full of the light of heaven.”/4
The word “poor” refers to “utter spiritual destitution.”/6 To be “poor in spirit” means that we have a “complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and self-reliance.”/7
In Psalm 23, we find the journey of the believer of God. He begins with humility and submission by calling us to recognize that “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). If we will not accept this beginning, we will never be a true disciple (Mark 8:34-38).
We cannot be filled and flooded with God, unless we are emptied of our pride and stubbornness (Ephesians 3:19). We can insert “ego” in the place of “spirit” and get the idea behind this beatitude. We do not become pitiful by rejecting our ego, but empowered by God’s glory.
Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
We place ourselves completely in the hands of our Lord, so we can be reborn as something new and wonderful (James 4:6,10; John 3:3-5). Only those who submit to God in all things will see a need for heaven.
We will have realized that we cannot hope to attain salvation on our own merits. It is not within man to save himself. When we realize this fact, we will begin to see that we must cling to the Savior. The process of emptying ourselves will begin and our spirits will be fed by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Only those who see their true, sinful, helpless self will ever have the spiritual eyes to see the door to enter the kingdom of heaven (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 59:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 10:1-9). If we do not need a Savior, we can be certain we will not have one.
1/ Marvin Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, n.d.), 1:33.
7/ D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies on the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 50.
by Richard Mansel